A New Day Job

Most of America had changed the channel two days ago, but a couple of televisions in Massachusetts were still glued into the process on day three of the 2018 MLB Draft. Round by round goes by. Then, a name quickly flashed across the television screen, and a lifelong dream had come true for two Northeastern baseball players.

Utilityman Charlie McConnell and shortstop Max Burt were going to play professional baseball.

“Crazy day,” Burt remembered.

“It was just disbelief and shock that everything was happening, because you work for this your whole life,” McConnell added. “You’re stunned.”

McConnell’s agent had informed him that he was going to fall somewhere between rounds 10 and 15; in fact, he was able to strike a deal with a team before his name was called for the 13th round. All that was left was waiting for that name to pop up.

“I was sitting waiting for that team to take me, and all of a sudden the [Seattle] Mariners grabbed me. I get a call from their scouting director, and it was just disbelief and shock that everything was happening,” McConnell said. “I walked in front of the TV and my dad said, “The Mariners just took you.” I was like, “What?” And I looked down, saw my name and I got a call from Seattle.”

Selected in the 28th round by the New York Yankees, Burt had plenty of time to soak in the anticipation — and worry.

“Rounds go by and I see shortstops get picked and I get stressed out, naturally. The 22nd round comes around and I just leave my house and go for a walk,” he said. “I was pretty confident I was going to get picked, but obviously anything can happen on draft day. Rounds kept on going and I was just like, is this going to happen or am I done?”

But there was a guiding voice that kept him assured that some team would take the chance on him.

“After that comes the 28th round and I just get a weird feeling,” Burt recalled. “My grandfather had passed away earlier that year, and I spoke to him that second and said, ‘Papa come on, right here.’ I was probably half a mile down my street and I heard everybody in my house go crazy so I sprinted back to my house and rejoiced with them.”

“He was all excited, he was in shock too, and we were both just fired up,” McConnell said. “It was a really cool moment to share with each other.”

The two Huskies-turned-pros would also share the moment with their mentor, head coach Mike Glavine, who took over the helm for Burt’s freshman year four years ago.  

“You’re proud of all the guys that played for you, and then for those guys that play beyond Northeastern it’s a little more special,” he said. “You want that for them as a coach. To watch them chase their dream of playing in the big leagues is awesome. We recruited those kids, and we’d like to think we had a small part in their development along the way.”

Burt pointed to their similar competitiveness and makeup that took the player-coach bond to a different level.

“He was pumped for me. Me and him have similar personalities so we would sometimes go at it during the season,” Burt said. ‘We were both winners, both wanted to win really bad so we would get on each other, and I think that was a special relationship we had, as a player and a coach. He was a big believer since day one.”

Glavine recalled what he saw from McConnell and Burt when he made the recruiting trips around Massachusetts. The two had different paths to becoming Huskies, but similar in their potential to be real assets on the diamond.

“Charlie was a little more advanced than Max was offensively in high school, and Max was a little more advanced defensively,” Glavine remembered. “Different styles of players, but overall the biggest thing for me was how hard they played the game. I definitely thought they had the chance to be impact players at the college level, and then once you get them on campus for their freshman year, that’s when you say, these guys have a chance to play beyond college baseball.”

McConnell, drafted after his junior season at Northeastern, was a utilityman with a knack for impacting the game no matter his position on the field. A top of the order sparkplug, he combined his hitting and speed to produce a .306/.388/.420 slash line over his three seasons. He swiped an incredible 76 bags, caught only six times.

Versatility and flexibility is McConnell’s calling card, something the Mariners already toyed with in his first taste of minor league ball. In his 65-game stint in low-A, the 22-year old has already trotted out to all three outfield positions.

“It definitely helps because it gives you a shot to get in the lineup every day,” McConnell said. “You get more of a chance to show what you can do.”

Glavine remembers McConnell best for his laid-back style of leadership, always keeping the clubhouse energized after a more timid freshman year.

“Sophomore year he came out of his shell — he has one of those personalities that can take over the team. He always kept everything light when it was a tough moment or when I wasn’t happy with the guys, he was always able to keep everything loose.”

Burt, on the other hand, was leader-by-example from day one. A two-time captain, Burt’s leadership had a profound effect on his teammates, and also the coaching staff.

“Not many guys get that honor,” Glavine said, referring to Burt’s two-time captainship. “He obviously had the respect of his teammates and the coaching staff. He just was a really tremendous leader for us with his work ethic, his attitude and his will to win. You can see that leadership from the practice field to in-game to off the field.”

He was stalwart at shortstop for his Husky tenure, even taking home the CAA Defensive Player of the Year award in 2017. Burt always led with the glove, but managed to provide some value in other ways with 60 extra-base hits and 33 stolen bases.

Despite his home at shortstop, the Yankees have also been experimenting with Burt around the infield, giving him game action at each position on the dirt. Burt took his new defensive alignments with confidence.

“I’m a big believer in if you can play shortstop at a high level, then you can play multiple infield positions well,” he said. “Obviously the game is changing, and playing a utility infield is becoming more and more valuable. I’ll play wherever they need me.”

Heading into the draft, scouts of numerous teams could be found jotting on clipboards in the stands of Parsons Field. However, neither Burt nor McConnell was a stranger to getting showcased. They shared the field with 2016 MLB draft picks Aaron Civale and Dustin Hunt, who constantly had scouts’ attention as top-10 round selections.

“You sort of just learn to ignore [the scouts] because you watched the older guys go through it ahead of you,” McConnell said. “I was playing in front of them [freshman year], but I wasn’t really thinking about it, and that mentality carried over to junior year.”

Burt similarly learned to ignore the attention, citing his consistent preparation no matter the situation.

“Whether it’s game one of the season, practice on a Saturday in the fall or game 56 in the championship, I try not to think about anything else except playing at a high level and trying to get the win with my team,” Burt said. “I’d be lying if I were to say I didn’t see them there, but I try my best to keep an even keel.”

While joining the ranks of professional baseball was a lifelong dream for Burt and McConnell, they acknowledged that the lifestyle tests their love of the game.

“There’s no other way to put it other than it’s just a grind,” Burt said. “If you don’t love this sport, you’ll never last. All the bus trips and the hotels — it’s a grind. But at the end of the day, I’m getting paid to play the game I love.”

McConnell had a brief preview of the experience playing in the Northwoods League in Wisconsin following his sophomore year at Northeastern. According to him, the day-to-day was similar to life in A-ball, but the increased fan presence was a marked shift from college.

“The big difference was playing in front of crowds of around 5,000 every night,” McConnell said. “I remember we played in Vancouver for Opening Day and I think 7,000 people were there and they were all screaming. I was in left field and someone hit a double and I couldn’t even hear myself think, that’s how loud the fans were.”

Now that the 2018 baseball season is in the books, Burt traded in the bright stadium lights for the fluorescent lights of Snell Library. Despite his new occupation, finishing out his business degree at Northeastern is equally as important as achieving his baseball dream.

“It means everything. I committed to this school, not only to play baseball, but to get a degree at the business school,” Burt said. “That’s going to be a big accomplishment of mine, something that I’ve always wanted to do. Once this is done, it’s just going to be getting ready for my day job, which is baseball.”

McConnell voiced a similar sentiment, not ready to give up on the academic journey he began three years ago.

“I’m going to try and come back, either next fall, or whenever I’m home,” he said. “I’ve got to figure it out, but it’s something I’m planning on doing.”

Glavine, getting ready for his fifth season as head coach, loved having his two former players back on campus. He made sure they got involved in practices in hopes of their work ethic impacting the new freshman class.

“I want them around, I want them at practice rubbing off on the freshmen and continuing that friendship they have with their former teammates,” Glavine said. “I don’t take it for granted — I remember saying multiple times last year to the coaching staff, we’re really going to miss these guys.”

Most of all, Glavine will miss seeing Burt and McConnell walk through the Cabot Center doors everyday.

“Their impact on a daily basis — you miss being around them and practicing with them and joking around with them, and really going through the grind with them,” Glavine said. “Long term, they have a lasting impact on the team, on the current guys, and especially on the coaching staff, because those are the types of players we want here at this program.”

Featured image courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.